Published: 17:12, 29 October 2019
| Updated: 17:13, 29 October 2019
A bench used to encourage people to have a chat is touring through Medway.
The vintage wood slat bench - called the Chatty Bench - was built to raise awareness for social isolation and loneliness. Members of the council's public health team will be encouraging others to sit, talk and enjoy the view.
Cllr David Brake (Con), cabinet member for adult services, said: “The chatty bench idea came from a member of the public health team who was walking along Chatham High Street and saw people just sitting on the benches. There was sometimes one person on their own or a couple of people staring into space.
“The chatty bench is an ideal opportunity for actually engaging with these people and speaking to them. Hopefully, they're going to speak to us.”
The chatty bench is part of A Better Medway - Together, a campaign run by Medway Council to tackle social isolation and loneliness. The council already offers free over 60s swimming, walking and cycling groups.
Cllr Brake added:“Our efforts on all of these activities and events associated with loneliness and social isolation are ongoing. This is something that we've been tackling for a long time.”
The bench drew the attention of library-goers and people in the park on Monday.
Sam Doust from Gillingham, said: "The bench is a great idea because it catches the eye straight away.”
The 23-year-old has struggled with feeling lonely before and thinks the project could help those in the same situation.
He said: “I think if you've got no one or you can’t open up to the people that are close to you, it's a very good chance to speak to someone and give your thoughts about what might be shutting you off.
“The problem is you keeping everything trapped inside. And if you're not talking to people, then you're not going to get it off your chest. It becomes dangerous. It becomes worrying.
“Speaking from experience, it's easy when I'm talking to people and it feels good. But then when I'm back by myself it feels bad. Talking to people as much as you can is so important because if I had been lonely for all this time, I could have found myself in any situation by now.”
Sam says that anyone can help to prevent loneliness by trying their best to raise awareness, support charities and draw people into conversation in the same way the chatty bench does.
He added: “Even if you can help one person, that one person can help another one person and then that can go on for a while. That can save a lot of people and help a lot of people.”
William Ronan, projects officer for Public Health, is one of the people will be at the bench while it is in Medway.
Mr Ronan said: "Loneliness is as bad as smoking, obesity and a lack of exercise for public health. Social isolation can also leave some young people vulnerable to exploitation, which is why we want to give them a reason to feel part of the community.
“The project is important to me because of the cost to us as a community. If people feel alienated, they feel isolated. I'm all about community. It's incumbent on us, not just us as a local authority, but on us as humans. As humans we crave social contact and connection.”
He urges people to think about spending less time on social media and connecting with others to avoid becoming isolated themselves, adding: “Simply stopping for one minute and having a brief conversation can make people feel more connected.
"If we make people feel more connected, then we can reduce social isolation and loneliness.”
Medway Council commissioned the bench from Medway Men in Sheds, a community group run by Sunlight Development Trust which tackles social isolation by “getting blokes together, shoulder to shoulder.”
The bench was made during their woodworking sessions. They also run sessions on engineering, music, art, gardening and sport - chosen for the interests and skills of the attendees.
Chris White, coordinator of Medway Men in Sheds, said: “Quite a few people don't have anything where they're doing something and they feel valued. They're just stuck at home bored and they've got so much skill and enthusiasm to give when they come into an environment like this.”
Mr White thinks the group can make all the difference to some people as it gives them a date to look forward to and a purpose to get out of the house. The men also use the group as a starting point to build independence, confidence and friendships before moving on to another group or job.
He added: “It’s not necessarily the activity, although that's important, it’s that they have a connection tosocial side of it. That's a major potential benefit to people’s health.”
Here is where you can find the chatty bench between 10am and 2pm:
Medway Council would like to find a permanent home for the chatty bench. Let us know in the comments below where you think the chatty bench should be left.
More by this authorSophie Bird